CH council members have the right to inquire
A major problem with the operation of government in Cleveland Heights needs immediate correction.
The CH City Charter grants council members a right of inquiry. They cannot order city employees to take actions, but they can approach any city employee privately to ask questions.
This right of inquiry is necessary and beneficial. It allows council members to make informed decisions. It allows them to monitor the performance of city departments. It helps them decide how to allocate financial resources. It prevents them from being totally dependent on what the mayor chooses to tell them.
Unfortunately, the mayor has been frustrating their exercise of this right.
For example, the city's new Employee Handbook states: “The line of communication between Staff and Council runs through the Mayor, pursuant to the City Charter."
It does not refer to the right of inquiry also found in the Charter. Employees must communicate with council members only through the mayor; otherwise, they risk disciplinary action.
The mayor effectively has prohibited conversations between council members and city employees.
A council committee can request that city employees attend its meetings. The mayor, reportedly, has refused some such requests, claiming they had "no legislative purpose."
But in restricting access to information, the mayor has violated the Charter. He has proclaimed himself sole arbiter of how each council member has a right to inquiry. Imagine the reaction if the President told congressional committees they could not invite federal employees to oversight hearings.
The Charter provides that the mayor “shall attend meetings of any committee of the Council when so required by such committee.” But council members must [be able to] learn directly from those who implement city programs. They must learn what government does. They must learn what government might do. They must learn what government cannot do given present resources. Attendance of the mayor at committee meetings is helpful, but not sufficient to keep city council informed.
The mayor may believe direct communication between council members and city employees threatens his authority. But an absence of such direct communication threatens the entire system of government.
The right of inquiry makes council members effective. Without it, they cannot perform oversight and cannot legislate. Without it, council becomes a mere rubber stamp.
The right of inquiry only is meaningful if council members assert and defend it. Hopefully they will. And hopefully, the mayor will recognize its importance to the city and work with council to improve communications.
Alan Rapoport, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, served on CH City Council (1980–87) and as council president/mayor (1982–87).